Movie Review – The Matrix (1999)

More than twenty years on, The Matrix remains a sharp, kinetic masterstroke.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Matrix arrived at a time of technological uncertainty, just as the millennium was coming to a close and everyone wondered if the clocks would revert to zero and send a burgeoning digital world into chaos. It was about the rise of artificial intelligence and the slavery of the human race. It mirrored the fears and paranoia suffered by an unsure population. It was packaged to look like the coolest video game that had yet to be developed. And for a generation of hungry young moviegoers, it was a formative (and transformative) revelation. At least it was for me.

Unless you were there, in 1999, having witnessed nothing like it before, I doubt I could put The Matrix’s effect into suitable words. It pilfered its premise from other great science-fiction films – notably Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) and Alex ProyasDark City (1998) – then styled itself not as an acid trip or a neo-noir mystery thriller but as a bible tale drenched in cyberpunk visuals and high-tech kung fu.

It innovated and championed new techniques in filmmaking (slow-motion, “bullet time”, etc), propelled Keanu Reeves into the superstar stratosphere, and seemingly changed the way action movies and science-fiction fantasies could be made.

The story, of course, involves the arrival of a messianic hero called Neo (Reeves), who spends his days as software analyst Thomas Anderson and his nights as a renowned hacker. He is contacted by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who believes Neo to be mankind’s prophesied saviour after humans created synthetic intelligence and watched helplessly as it surpassed them, enslaved them, and created the Matrix “dream world” to sedate and exploit them.

All this is basically a clothesline on which the directors, the Wachowskis, pin an inexhaustible number of action sequences, many of which have become iconic in the world of movie magic. There are definitely harsh warnings here about the dangers of tampering with computers and A.I., but it all gets swept up in the euphoria of the effects and the style. This isn’t exactly criticism, but a happy observation of a science-fiction action movie that was done better than anything else of its kind at the time.

Watching the movie again for the bazillionth time, I find that the gunfighting scenes no longer grip me the way they used to. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen countless copies and rip-offs in the time since, and even though The Matrix executes them well, they have become much of a muchness. The kung fu scenes, however, especially the dojo and subway pieces, remain muscular and, dare I say it, elegant. The choreography by kung fu legend Yuen Woo Ping has lost none of its sharpness.

I still marvel at the ingenuity and effort put into this film. It shook the world so violently that two sequels spawned in its wake and a third is currently set for 2021. All three are needless. The Matrix ended with triumphant satisfaction. It told its story and closed it. Unfortunately. Hollywood believes that what is closed can be opened again, and again, and again, whether we want it to be or not.

The Matrix is now screening on Netflix Australia

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films & Netflix Australia

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

It’s said you’re not a true Star Wars fan unless you hate Star Wars. If that’s true, then The Rise of Skywalker could be the new fan favourite.

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

A mysterious message from the long-presumed dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) echoes throughout the galaxy, bringing foreboding signs of the First Order’s mass retaliation and uprising that could lead to a Sith regime and vanquish the Rebels for good. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) follow a trail of clues left by Luke Skywalker to track down and stop the Emperor, but new information about Rey’s past threatens the balance of the force. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), now Supreme Leader of the First Order, is sought allegiance by Palpatine, but once again finds his loyalties tested.

There’s no better visual metaphor for the creative direction behind Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy than that of Kylo Ren’s Vader-reminiscent helmet. It was introduced in J.J. Abrams’ nostalgia fueled The Force Awakens, shattered to smithereens in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, and finally, quite literally glued back together again for Abrams return in The Rise Of Skywalker. It reflects how Abrams has attempted to pick up the pieces and make it all resemble something meaningful with the supposed ‘final’ chapter of the Skywalker saga.

For the third time in many-a lifetime, we’re being led to believe this is the main Star Wars’ storyline coming full circle. With the burden of concluding nine films over 40 years (not counting spinoffs) and tying up all the broken threads, there’s no way Episode IX can live up to its gargantuan obligations, right?

Well yes, right, unfortunately. It’s easy to lay blame at the feet of Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi – probably the most divisive entry to a franchise ever. While its defenders will fight this, it is at least partially to blame for a lot of The Rise of Skywalker’s problems. Many fans took ire with TLJ for superfluous reasons, but whatever your opinion of it, there’s no denying that its purposefully left-field creative decisions backed the trilogy into a corner. Johnson, so determined to subvert expectations, ultimately tied up most of the lingering mysteries and story arcs in an unsatisfying manner. Bold, maybe, but not ideal for the second part of a trilogy.

Since the colossal fan backlash, Disney bringing Abrams back to the fold has reeked of damage control – a point now proven, as he spends a great deal of Rise backpedaling on a number of things set up and finalised last time. Since the big bad of the trilogy (Snoke) was killed off with a shrug in TLJ, Rise makes the rather desperate move of resurrecting Emperor Palpatine as its villain, purely for the sake of needing a recognisable evil for the climactic chapter.

With little in the way of real defining character traits, the central trio are severely lacking the chemistry of Luke, Han and Leia, or hell, even Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme. Finn and Poe are again given nothing to do, while Rey’s hazy arc is attempted to be given some purpose by throwing in another twist that makes little sense. Where TFA had Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and TLJ had Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), TROS is the first time these new characters don’t have an OT stalwart to bounce off (save for a handful of recycled deleted scenes of Carrie Fisher’s Leia), and their absence is felt as the lack of real characterization of the newbies is made truly apparent.

The actors commendably give the poor writing their all, particularly Daisy Ridley, who does everything she can to make her un-enthrallingly overpowered Rey seem interesting. Adam Driver, whose Kylo Ren was once the new trilogy’s most fascinating addition, is now neutered and tragically sidelined. He deserves much better, but at least tries to deliver an admirable send-off.

There are a few positives at least, like the continuation of the new movies’ stunning visual flair. The lightsaber duel amidst the crashing waves of a water planet is very impressive. Billy Dee Williams‘ return as Lando Calrissian is brief but enjoyable, and there’s approximately one or two gleeful moments in the final battle that – for a fraction of a second – feel reminiscent of the joyous climaxes of older chapters. But the oppressively dark tone constantly reminds us that we’re a long way from those. Finally, we conclude on several baffling decisions that outdo even the most contested with ones made in The Last Jedi – it’s doubtful that unintentionally hilarious is what J.J. was going for.

Maybe Rian Johnson isn’t so much to blame. He was simply applying his skills to the chapter he was given and doing what he thought was intriguing with the box of mysteries set up by Abrams. Perhaps one day fans will forgive him for this. Maybe a trilogy helmed entirely by Abrams, or entirely by Johnson would have paid off with more consistency and gratification, but now we can only wonder what could have been.

It was certainly brave of Disney to experiment with a Marvel-esque universe expansion of one of the biggest intellectual properties on the planet, but let’s hope they take some time and practice some Jedi training before they attempt to hyperdrive us back into that galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is available in Australian cinemas from 19 December 2019

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Terminator: Dark Fate

Just like he promised, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as the T-800 in the sixth Terminator film, Dark Fate. But rather than providing a shot in the arm, Tim Miller’s attempt to revive this ailing franchise sees it further tangled in a time loop of its own creation.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

After the critical mauling Terminator Genisys received back in 2015, 20th Century Fox have hit the reset button yet again. Gone are Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney; in their place are Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis as Dani and Grace respectively. Dani is a Mexican labourer who works on an assembly line that is slowly being phased out in favour of robots; Grace is an augmented soldier sent from the future to protect Dani from a more technologically advanced Terminator (Gabriel Luna) for reasons unknown. Sound familiar?

After an opening salvo set on the factory floor where Dani works, the duo cross paths with a grizzled older woman called Sarah Connor (a returning Linda Hamilton). Connor takes it upon herself to join them in their fight as they journey from Mexico City to Texas in search of an ally who can stop the Terminator on their tail in its tracks.

Much like the unstoppable cyborg hunting Connor and her posse, there’s an eerie sense of inevitability to Terminator: Dark Fate – the creeping feeling that you’re once again watching a Terminator film that can’t think outside the box or stray from the established formula.

Plagued with the same derivativeness that audiences derided in Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys, Dark Fate at times feels less like a sequel to Judgement Day than an uninspired remix of it.

Once again, we’re treated to bubbles of lightning that spawn naked time travellers, unstoppable shape-shifting cyborgs who simply shrug off missiles and some catch-cries about ‘being back’ or there being ‘no fate but what we make for ourselves’. Dark Fate, essentially the third (or fourth, but who’s counting?) attempt to adequately make a sequel to 1991’s Judgement Day, is the same-same, but different – just like all the others were.

Hamilton, who like Harrison Ford and Jaime Lee Curtis has been tempted back to an ageing franchise for bonus nostalgia points, is a welcome sight as the original and the best Sarah Connor (sorry, Emilia). Even with two new lead characters, the film gives Hamilton plenty of character stuff to work with, particularly in the second half opposite Schwarzenegger.

Meanwhile, audiences are made to wait a while for the big man to arrive, but it’s worth it – he’s by far the best part of Dark Fate, bringing some much-needed oomph and levity to an otherwise turgid slog of overlong action sequences.

Another case of failure to launch, Dark Fate tells us the Terminator series isn’t in need of another reboot – it needs to be left on the scrapheap.

Terminator: Dark Fate is available in Australian cinemas from October 31 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 

Movie Review – Men In Black: International

Here come the Men in Black for a film they won’t let you remember.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Barry Sonnenfeld’s original Men in Black arrived like a bolt out of the blue back in 1997. Hailed as a sharp sci-fi film for both children and adults, the film exemplified Will Smith at the height of his powers and dominated multiplexes, pulling nearly $600 million globally. With two sequels in 2002 and 2012 failing to recapture the same magic, Sony Pictures has opted for a soft reboot that swaps the Smith and Tommy Lee Jones partnership for Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, and replaces previous director Sonnenfield with F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious).

This relaunch, dubbed Men in Black: International, sees Thompson play Molly, a young woman who has searched her whole life for the truth about the mysterious MIB. When she aces the entrance exam and is partnered with Agent H (Hemsworth), Molly (now known as Agent M) is reassigned to MIB’s London branch and tasked with a frivolous top-secret mission that sees the duo darting from jolly old England to Morocco, Italy and France.

The basic template of a Men in Black movie remains the same – to a point. You’ve got the newcomer acting as the audience POV character (Thompson), the more experienced agent showing them the ropes (Hemsworth), a powerful, pocket-sized MacGuffin that can propel the plot and a series of action set pieces populated with gooey, eccentric extra-terrestrials. So far, so good you might think.

Except, it’s not. Men in Black International moves in fits and starts, sparkling with energy in one scene before awkwardly shuffling through the next. Moment to moment, it’s very inconsistent, without a strong authorial voice or overarching narrative theme to fall back on when the characters, the plot or the jokes fall flat – which is on the regular.

Hemsworth and Thompson make for an entertaining pair (just as they did in Thor: Ragnarok), but the script is stuck in second gear, with gag after gag landing with the thump. You sense the filmmakers are striving for the same improvisational vibe that worked so well in the riotous Jump Street reboots, only it fails to translate in a PG-rated setting.

The plot is throwaway, the supporting cast is largely wasted (returning cast member Emma Thompson pops in for only a couple of scenes) and the twist, if you can call it that, is glaringly obvious from the outset. Honestly, if you don’t see the twist coming, chances are you’ve literally never seen a movie before in your entire life.

So is International any better or worse than Men in Black II or Men in Black III? Hard to say, as they’re all varying degrees of so-so, but at least we can all agree the first is an underappreciated classic. This newest instalment has some decent tricks up its sleeve, but nothing comes close to recapturing the insatiable chemistry and energy Smith and Jones brought to the original.

Men In Black: International is available in Australian cinemas from 13 June 2019

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Dumbo (2019)

Tim Burton’s steady decline continues in dramatic fashion.

⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Fair warning to whomever reads this: I’m not a happy camper, so lots of complaining is forthcoming. I did not like this movie. Not one bit. I don’t know if it’s because I hold fond memories of the original Dumbo (1941), or because every single second of this new live-action Dumbo (2019) is a contrived, boring, predictable mess, from the opening scene of a CGI train chugging across the southern U.S. to the inevitable happy ending where everything is bright and sunny in Disneyland.

This new Dumbo takes place in 1919, where a travelling carnival led by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) is delighted to welcome a newborn elephant into its troupe. But wait, how can this be? His ears – they’re huge and disgusting! The crowds laugh and hurl peanuts at him. The only people who care for him are Milly and Joe (a perpetually sullen Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins). They are the children of Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), who was once the carnival’s star attraction before the Great War removed one of his arms.

Milly? Joe? Holt? Who the heck are these people? – you ask. Fair question. The original Dumbo was all about Dumbo and his mouse friend Timothy. The humans were ornamental figures who barely spoke. This remake envisions a story where the humans are front and centre, and Dumbo is a kind of supporting superstar. Naturally, the entire cast is brand new. This might’ve worked if Ehren Kruger, responsible for the screenplay, had devised a story that was as imaginative and challenging as the original. Alas, it’s another dusty tale of the humble family business taken over by the ruthless tycoon.

The tycoon this time is Vandevere, played by Michael Keaton in one of Keaton’s most bewildering and dangerously absurd performances. Vandevere, who runs an impossibly modern circus complex, hears of the infamous flying pachyderm and offers to merge Max’s troupe with his own. Max has obviously never seen a movie in his life so can’t possibly imagine that Vandevere means to swindle him. Meanwhile, you might’ve realised how little of Dumbo the Elephant I am mentioning. That is because Dumbo doesn’t do anything worth mentioning, except fall from great heights before swooping up at the last second.

Couldn’t Kruger have thought of anything more original for these characters to do? Couldn’t the director, Tim Burton, have allowed them to behave convincingly, to make decisions that surprise and enchant? Everyone is a marionette, hoisted by strings, controlled by the devices of the plot, yanked this way and that. Everything they do is a mechanical step toward a robotic conclusion. If you don’t think that’s sad, just remember how the best Disney movies continue to move us in ways we thought we had forgotten. Next to them, Dumbo is, for lack of a more sophisticated description, dumb.

Dumbo is available in Australian cinemas from March 28

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – The Darkest Minds

Another post-apocalyptic film about a group of teenagers trying to save the world… yawn.

⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

The Darkest Minds offers up yet another adaptation of a post-apocalyptic tween book series. This time a virus has wiped out most of the children in the world, leaving those who survive with super powers. With abilities that range from high intelligence, to telekinesis and telepathy, the children with the greatest powers are hunted down as it’s believed they pose a danger to society. After escaping from a compound, telepathic Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) bands together with a bunch of other kids to find sanctuary from those who hunt them.

Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it is. Following a similar narrative to the Divergent series, The Maze Runner franchise and The 5th Wave, The Darkest Minds is simply another addition to the pile of young adult franchises flooding into cinemas. At least this time around the casting seems to be right, with actors who actually look the age of the children they’re playing.

Stenberg shines bright in the lead role. She brings a certain vulnerability that makes you willing to follow her through the course of the film. Newcomer Harris Dickinson brings an interesting screen presence as Ruby’s love interest, displaying sensitivity and a roughness all at once. Dickinson and Stenberg’s chemistry is palpable, and he’s definitely one to watch as he continues with his career. Skylan Brooks, whose character Chub is used purely for comic relief, ends up being the character with the most heart and becomes the one to root for.

Despite failing to offer anything new, The Darkest Minds isn’t the worst of its kind. Although their potentially is never fully tapped into, the cast bring a certain grace and maturity to the film that ensure it’s not entirely forgettable.

The Darkest Minds is available in Australian cinemas from August 16 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is great fun, but one must ask the question: why was it ever made?

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Han Solo, the hero of Solo: A Star Wars Story, has been a mythic figure since 1977. He’s a charming, roguish hunk who plays by his own rules, scoffs at authority and occasionally obeys the commands of his heart. He’s also a character many students of Star Wars love dearly. But I suspect, after watching this new Star Wars adventure, many of those students will want to protest.

This is first and foremost a movie designed for fans of the beloved franchise. It doesn’t have the parts to satisfy the indifferent, except of course in scenes where spaceships swoop around maelstroms and blasters are fired left, right and centre. It’s a story that’s rooted in the history of the galaxy far, far away, and so every little detail matters. Or at least it should.

Solo tells the story of Han (Alden Ehrenreich), from his tortured existence on a tyrannical planet and blossoming courtship with fellow slave Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), to his early success as a professional smuggler and ace pilot of the Millennium Falcon. It also answers such questions as the birth of his name, how he founded his eternal bromance with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and how he completed the famed ‘Kessel Run’ in 12 parsecs. I don’t recall ever asking these questions, or indeed wanting them shown to me in such unimaginative plainness, but there you have it. The myth has been stripped away from the man.

Doesn’t matter. Solo: A Star Wars Story is decent, honest fun. It doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, which is what any successful Star Wars movie should strive for. The plot is more basic than a vanilla sponge cake. The characters are scribbled in from bits and pieces of characters past. Its humour is nothing but second-hand gags. There is not a moment when you fear for anyone’s safety. There are weird planets, obligatory lounge acts and endless battles. It’s a movie programmed to keep you smiling from start to finish.

The battles, of course, are very well filmed and seem to occupy much of the movie’s runtime. Han, desperate to pilot a ship that will allow him to rescue his beloved from the clutches of bondage, teams up with a thief called Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who himself is working for criminal mastermind Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Their quest leads them to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), an expert smuggler whose co-pilot is L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a radical droid that walks and talks with the sass for change. She crusades for droid equality, an idea that makes sense today but otherwise rubbed me the wrong way completely. No-one goes to a Star Wars movie for lessons in social politics. At least I don’t.

But perhaps I’m speaking too much like a Star Wars fanatic and not giving enough weight to the positives? Possibly. However, I see no other way to discuss a Star Wars movie, since I’ve spent most of my life with them. They feed into each other and can no longer be judged independently.

This one doesn’t measure up to its predecessors in terms of stakes and depth – and it might upset diehard Han Solo followers who feel they’ve been duped by midichlorians again – but in the hands of Ron Howard it just scrapes through. Am I itching to see it again? I’m afraid not. Not even a little.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available in Australian cinemas from May 24

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Annihilation

Natalie Portman. Scary Creatures. A dome shaped border that looks like a rainbow sheet of film. Welcome to the world of Annihilation by Alex Garland.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

Annihilation is an unusually neutral experience. It’s one of those films that doesn’t quite reach greatness, but it’s also not terrible. It just leaves you feeling like, um… it was OK

That isn’t to say it isn’t an enjoyable film – Annihilation does some awesome and innovative stuff. But there’s a whole lot of bullshit going on that brings it down to be just another sub-par science fiction flick.

Everyone has been raving about this film, claiming that it “completely challenges you” and is “really thoughtful and intellectual” and yes, it’s smart here and there, but nowhere near the level it’s being praised to be at.

The film has a trend of inconsistency – one that not only shadows the plot, but also, it’s visual aesthetic. The world within the dome can go from a burst of beautiful colours, to a shitty blend of dullness the next. While this may have been an intentional narrative decision, it nevertheless retracts from the entire experience. Wouldn’t it have made just as much sense to keep this world spectacularly designed throughout? It just misses the opportunity to be a fantastic film on a visual scale.

The same path of thinking can be said for the lead performances. Annihilation features three incredible actors, with Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but for the most part, each of their performances come across as stale and completely reserved . It does make some sense for Isaac’s character to be this way, but it doesn’t work well for Jennifer Jason Leigh at all. She delivers her lines in a neutral way and it doesn’t even feel like she’s fully there most of the time. Nothing she says seems to carry any motivation in any respect.

The actors can’t take the full blame, the fault ultimately lies with writer/director Alex Garland. Garland has the ability to write some fantastic ideas one second, then completely throws this away the next with some horrendous dialogue.

So overall, I would recommend seeing Annihilation, but it’s a suggestion that comes with no real sense of urgency. This is a very missable film, but if you do end up seeing it on Netflix, there are some aspects to enjoy. Just don’t be surprised if you come away from it and find yourself constantly responding to others with, um… it was OK.

Annihilation is available on Netflix in Australia 

Image courtesy of Peter Mountain, Paramount Pictures & Netflix, Source: IMDb 

Movie Review – Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fitting resolution to a tiresome and ultimately forgettable franchise.

Josip Knezevic

There’s no point holding back: I abhorred the Maze Runner: The Death Cure from the moment it started. Not even the luscious Vmax furniture or the ample amounts of legroom were able to make the experience enjoyable. I was expecting – or at least hoping – for a film that didn’t repeat everything we’ve already seen in the previous films… how very wrong I was.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure returns to its apocalyptic world that’s overrun with the damned and infected or ‘cranks’. Our heroes Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) are continuing their endless journey to bring down the powerful World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department, appropriately abbreviated as WCKD. Time is running out for Thomas to find a way to save his friends as infections spread and threaten everyone. Will he make it in time? Who will die in the process? Is there any chance I’m going to care?

It’s disheartening to see a studio waste a budget of more than $80 million on a film filled with plot holes and conveniences. There’s so many films out there that have been made for far less and have managed to produce something so much better, but alas, I digress.

The biggest problem with the third and final Maze Runner is its incredibly long run time; at 2 hours and 22 minutes, it’s arduous viewing. Why director Wes Ball did not cut scenes that easily could have been omitted without impacting the overall narrative is baffling to me. The opening scenes, for starters, hold no implications on the rest of the story, and merely draw out the film for the sake of drawing it out. Meanwhile, several developments in the final act drag out the climax to frustrating lengths.

Unless you’re a fan of the franchise and somehow enjoyed the other instalments, I cannot recommend you go and see this film.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is available in Australian cinemas from January 25 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – The Shape of Water

After forays into blockbuster anime (Pacific Rim) and gothic horror (Crimson Peak), Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots for a genre-bending monster mash.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The Shape of Water sees Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro deliver a dark fantasy fairytale, a suspenseful conspiracy thriller, a fish-out-of-water comedy (literally) and an enchanting love story all wrapped up in one beautiful package. It’s Amelie meets Creature From The Black Lagoon meets The Little Mermaid, and it’s easily del Toro’s best English language film to date.

Set in Baltimore during the Cold War, The Shape of Water centres around Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor, and her relationship with a mysterious amphibian creature (Doug Jones) being held in the secret military research facility where she works. Through their limited ability to communicate, the odd couple strike up an unlikely romance that’s bound by their shared feeling of loneliness and incompleteness.

However, their secret romance soon hits a snag when Michael Shannon’s ruthless military colonel plans to destroy the creature, and so the pair must devise an escape plan with the help of Elisa’s neighbour (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker (Octavia Spencer).

Meticulous in its craftsmanship, every frame, facet and fabric in The Shape of Water is dripping with sumptuous detail, from the intricate sets and rich colours, to the grotesque design of the creature himself, complete with gills, frills, fangs and googly eyes that swivel.

It’s a masterful period creature feature that is overflowing with affection for its setting, its influences and its themes. Del Toro’s screenplay, which was co-written by Vanessa Taylor, plumbs the depths of prejudice, politics and science, as well as sexuality. The cherry on top is Alexandre Desplat’s dreamy and bewitching score, which sounds as though you’re sipping on a latte in an underwater Parisian café.

Hawkins delivers a career-best performance as Elisa, a timid spinster who lives above a movie theatre. Whether she’s dancing with her mop and bucket or staging a dramatic breakout, Hawkins brings compassion and ferocity in equal measure. Similarly, Jones brings majestic physicality as the creature, buried underneath layers of prosthetics but still emoting like the best of them.

The Shape of Water is currently being showered with awards, and rightly so; in addition to being visually stunning, it’s a delicate and absorbing fable that is a testament to the power of love and compassion. Populated with captivating performances and delicious design, it’s bound to go over swimmingly with fans of del Toro and genre work alike.

The Shape of Water is available in Australian cinemas from January 18 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox